This is re-posted from this month’s Magis Mail, a newsletter for alums. Are you an alum interested in joining the Magis Society? Click here.
This post highlights ConneXions, a programs geared towards first-year students who are interested in engaging in service and deep reflection. It kicks off next week, but there is still time to join. Contact Dominique Brown at email@example.com for more info.
Dezrae is a typical high school student in many ways – a new member of her school’s soccer team, the oldest of three sisters, and a huge fan of Twilight. When we first met, I was drawn to her confidence and free-spirited personality. Yet Dezzie isn’t exactly like other girls her age. Although her friends at school have no idea, she is homeless. And her two younger sisters, ages nine and three? They’re homeless too.
Growing up in a suburban neighborhood in Nashville, Tennessee, my life was very different from Dezzie’s. I had everything I needed and much of what I wanted, and I was surrounded by people just like me. Although my family would occasionally serve a meal at the local soup kitchen, it was easy to remain detached from those I met. I administered charity from behind a kitchen counter, keeping my worldview and my heart untouched. If we choose to be blind to the Body of Christ, we can remain altogether unchanged by the poor.
It was during my freshman year at Xavier that this charitable version of Christianity was radically challenged and ultimately transformed. Ten years later, I am grateful to have participated in the pilot year of ConneXions, an introduction to social justice for first-year students. One week, Tom Sheibley, the Dorothy Day House director at the time, took our group to the Drop Inn Center in Over the Rhine. At first, I looked around with something that resembled pity much more than compassion, again feeling grateful that I wasn’t part of this poor, shivering mass in front of me. Pity was easy – it required very little from me. Yet God’s reign is not built on pity but justice. And Xavier was giving me an appetite for God’s reign.
ConneXions gradually taught me, week by week, that charity is only a small part of God’s kingdom here on earth. Sitting in the grass in front of the old Dorothy Day House, we were asked to imagine what it would mean to live not as service-providers and recipients but brothers and sisters in Christ. We were given permission to dream of a world where everyone matters and everyone belongs. We were taught that justice, not just charity, is required of us. And we found glimpses of the beauty and connectedness that come from living into this responsibility of love for one another. I now believe that my life’s work is to become an active participant in God’s compassionate justice in the world and to invite others to do the same: the seed for this vocation was planted on the fertile ground of the DDH front lawn.
It is through my current work as a university minister at the University of San Diego that I had the pleasure of meeting Dezzie. Over the course of a week, seventy USD students met her and eleven other guests at Interfaith Shelter Network, a faith-based homeless shelter that I helped coordinate. This week was transformative of my own understanding of justice as the privileged and the poor sat down together. Every night felt a bit like God’s heavenly banquet when the homeless guests played host to these students of privilege, welcoming them with open arms to their table of plenty. There was no kitchen counter for students to hide behind, though they did prepare some delicious food to share. Over taco salad, student stereotypes were challenged by the honest, hilarious reflections of Dezzie, who, at fourteen years old, spoke with heartbreaking clarity about the sufferings and joys of her life.
In a follow-up reflection with some of the participating students, a young woman named Jessica talked about her sorrow for the world as it is and her desire for the world as it should be. She asked why she is able to go home at the end of the day when others go without that right. She wondered how, in the midst of such human connection, guilt for her privilege still existed and what she should do with this privilege. Ten years after my visit to the Drop Inn Center, I still find myself asking these same questions.
Yet with this hunger and ache for justice, Jessica also expressed gratitude for the real joy that she experienced at the shelter. There were moments there of pure grace that reminded Jessica, and reminded me, that to sit with the suffering of others is often to simultaneously be welcomed into their deepest joys. I am forever grateful for people like Dezzie, people who let me pull up a chair. Interfaith Shelter Network and ConneXions both show me that the kingdom of God is among us if we simply sit down with one another like the family that we are.
This reflection was shared by Elizabeth Coyle, who we used to know as Libby, someone highly involved in programs from Peace and Justice Programs and Campus Ministry. She started as a shy, first-year student on the Getaway retreat and graduated from XU having participated in or having led many of the programs of those 2 houses. She’s now a Campus Minister at the University of San Diego (lucky her, right?).
The pic is a throwback photo to honor our alums… from ConneXions in 2005 (gasp!)